Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) has defended a Republican effort to restrict voting on Sundays—a move critics say would suppress voting in minority communities—by invoking the Bible to argue the Sabbath should be free of political activity to “keep it holy.”
“Georgia is a Southern state just like Mississippi,” she said, during a hearing on Wednesday about a Senate voting rights bill. “And I cannot speak for Georgia, but I can speak for Mississippi on why we would never do that on Sunday or hold an election on a Sunday.”
But that’s one part of the Bible that Hyde-Smith didn’t apply to her own electioneering.
In 2018, as she campaigned for her Senate seat in a hotly contested runoff, then-candidate Hyde-Smith hosted back-to-back events in Columbus and Meridian, Mississippi, according to videos obtained by The Daily Beast.
It was the last Sunday of November, two days before her runoff with Democratic rival Mike Espy, and as Hyde-Smith urged the crowd of about 40 supporters to get to the polls on Tuesday, she cracked a joke about the church service she had just left.
“We had a really good visit this morning in Columbus. We’ve been to the Pentacostal Church, had a great worship service. We came out of there and I thought, I mean, Jesus has lifted me up,” she said shortly after noon, to laughter and applause.
If she had felt uncomfortable urging people to vote for her that day, she didn’t show it, smoothly pivoting to telling the room to “be there” the next day at then-President Donald Trump’s rally in nearby Tupelo.
Sen. Hyde-Smith’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Hyde-Smith’s comments on Wednesday came in response to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who had railed from the Senate floor that morning against proposed legislation in Georgia and other states that would eliminate early voting on Sundays, a move that he said would disproportionately affect Black voters.
“Why did the Georgia legislature only pick Sundays to say there should be no early voting on Sunday? We know why. It’s because that’s the day African Americans vote in the ‘Souls to the Poll’ operation where they go from church to vote,” Schumer said. “It’s despicable.”
That afternoon, during a Senate committee hearing, Hyde-Smith said she wanted to respond to Schumer’s comments about “why Georgia would not participate in an electoral process, on gathering signatures, registration and things on Sunday.”
She then took out a dollar bill and said: “This says, ‘The United States of America. In God We Trust.’ Etched in stone in the U.S. Senate chamber is ‘In God We Trust.’ When you swore in all of these witnesses, the last thing you said to them in your instructions was, ‘so help you God.’”
This January, Hyde-Smith, who had been elected in 2018 to finish out the term of her predecessor, Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, was sworn into her first six-year term—on a Sunday.
This is not Hyde-Smith’s first rodeo when it comes to making comments apparently in support of suppressing Democratic votes. During her 2018 Senate campaign, a supporter of her Democratic rival, Mike Espy, had recorded her telling a small gathering in Starkville, Mississippi, that voter suppression sounded like “a great idea.”
“They remind me that there’s a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who maybe we don’t want to vote. Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult. And I think that’s a great idea,” Hyde-Smith had said to a crowd that included students at nearby Mississippi State.
And earlier that month, Hyde-Smith had faced accusations of racism after refusing to apologize for comments she made about attending a “public hanging,” which many took to be a reference to lynchings, a tactic long used by white southerners to dissuade Black people from voting. Later, a photo surfaced of her in a Confederate cap and holding a musket next to a caption reading, “Mississippi history at its best.” Hyde-Smith had posted the photo to her Facebook page.
Hyde-Smith’s reference to the Bible on Wednesday perhaps comes as no surprise, as she has long positioned her Christian faith as a central tenet of her life.
But it’s unclear why she would apparently see her own campaign events as exempt from her own call to “keep it holy” on Sundays while arguing that voting is somehow off limits because of the Sabbath.
Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, which was two days before the runoff with Espy, turned out to be a busy campaign day for the senator. After the event in Columbus, the campaign had headed down the road to an event at the Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum in Meridian. There, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) had urged voters to support Hyde-Smith, calling her an “inspiration” and a “small town home girl.”
Speaking after Ernst, Hyde-Smith had stressed the importance of Tuesday’s election.
“It’s not just my name on the ballot,” she told the room of about 25 supporters in Meridian. “It’s our conservative values that are on the ballot Tuesday.”